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Group Reads Archive > January 2013 - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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message 1: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Welcome to the first fiction read of 2013...

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


message 2: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I started this the other day on the kindle (I must have misplaced the copy I read in high school!) and in the introduction there are a lot of references to Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath which relates to his journals and possibly some letters. I have this book and I have found it very interesting. It was driving me to want to read the book again. It is fairly short - less than 130 pp.

message 3: by Ivan (last edited Jan 04, 2013 03:08PM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments When I was a young man I read a great deal of John Steinbeck and Jack London. They were both from California (where I am from), and both were radical left wing muckrakers. The Grapes of Wrath is considered Steinbeck's masterpiece. It's one helluva story, though I like In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men and The Pastures of Heaven more. Steinbeck attempted something in The Grapes of Wrath that he didn't in his other works, he employed interstitial chapters to illustrate to the reader that poverty and unemployment were a national problem and not exclusive to the Joad family. I detested these chapters and found them to be rather condescending - as if I wasn't intelligent enough to extrapolate that for myself. I am wondering if anyone else shares my feelings. In every other way this is a great story, well told.

message 4: by Val (new)

Val Would most people have known how much poverty and unemployment there was at the time?
The interstitial chapters make the book more relentlessly grim and depressing than a story of one unfortunate family. It is not a comfortable read, especially during a recession.

message 5: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments I would contend that anyone intelligent enough to understand the book and his writing would have been very well aware of just how much poverty there was at the time. It was the great depression. It is still a very powerful piece of writing and relevant today.

message 6: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I suppose it's up to writers like this to make it uncomfortable for the comfortably off during a recession by reminding them of how much worse some people have it...often as a direct trade off so that they can have it better!

I've read the first chapter of this where the young Joad hitches a ride in a lorry and a sandstorm covers the crops in dust. I must say that the first chapter hasn't really grabbed me...but we'll see how it goes on.

message 7: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Here are some initial reading questions for those who want them:

1) how much poverty and suffering is caused by nature (such as the weather, crop failures etc) and how much is caused by other people?

2) How much poverty and suffering is preventable, for example if individuals changed their behaviours, and how much is unchangable for example because of the shackles of economic, social and historical circumstance?

3)How much dignity and honour is possible for the characters within this novel?

4) What is the moral that we as readers are expected take from this novel? other words, why write a story such as this?

message 8: by Ivan (last edited Jan 06, 2013 07:27AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Ally, these questions have so many (too many?) answers. There are so many variables that play a part - nature yes, but ignorance (lack of education) and government apathy.

I love Ma Joad. I think she has great dignity.

What is the moral? I don't know that it has one. It is, like so many other early Steinbeck works, an attack on the wealthy, big business, and government policies that favor corporations instead of "we the people." This work was a catalyst for great change - it allowed for readers (and a year later) film goers to read and see in uncomprosing terms that these Oakie's are just people like ourselves who need our help and deserve our compassion. Today Romney would call them the 47% unwilling to take responsiblity for themselves, and who Paul Ryan would tell "pull yourselves up by your bootstraps." Ah, everything old is new again (those you forget the past are doomed to relive it).

message 9: by Val (last edited Jan 07, 2013 02:12AM) (new)

Val 1) and a bit of 2) The Joads are living close to the edge to start with, so the environmental problems hit them very hard, but most of the problems they experience in the book are as a result of actions by other people or 'the system'. Farming arid grassland is rarely sustainable, whatever socio-political system it operates under, but Steinbeck's contention is that the one operating then made the situation a whole lot worse for the people caught up in it.
As Ivan suggests, not a lot has changed.

Do you feel the government were apathetic Ivan? FDR and his new deal are admired by a lot of people in Europe, although this book does tend to show it as too little, too late (although the film doesn't so much).

message 10: by Ivan (last edited Feb 27, 2013 12:30PM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments FDR was the greatest President of the 20th century. But every change he brought about was like pulling teeth - he was dealing with the GOP. So, change took time. Remember, he was sworn in three years into the depression. Coolidge and Hoover helped bring about the great depression with their policies.

message 11: by Val (new)

Val A few more about thoughts about 2) There were several years of drought in Oklahoma and neighbouring states in the 1930's, which caused crop failure and contributed to the formation of the dust bowl. The other major contributing factor was that the grassland had been ploughed for crops, which loosened the soil. The deep ploughing and huge monoculture fields which replaced the small share-cropping farms would have exacerbated the problem much more than the small farms did: they were ploughed deeper, all in the same direction, any obstacles such as trees of farmhouses which might have formed a windbreak were removed, the crops were harvested at the same time so the fields were bare at the same time and there were fewer people on the land to give any warning of a problem, even if nothing could have been done about it. It would be extremely unfair to blame the share-croppers farming methods, when they had little control over them and what they were replaced with was much worse, from an environmental perspective.

3) The dignity of the poor farmers is one of the themes of the book. A lot of things erode that dignity, starting with breaking their bond to the land, but in many cases can not destroy it. This is obviously something Steinbeck felt very strongly about.
Right-wing rhetoric like Mitt Romney's sometimes tries to suggest that the poor are in some way responsible for their poverty; our politicians do it too. They do it to justify reduced welfare spending, but it is also one more way of attempting to erode that dignity.

4) Join the union?

message 12: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I started this the other night. I was pulled in immediately by the way he described the start of the dust bowl. I hadn't expected that Joad was away from his family because he had been in jail. I look forward to what else it brings.

message 13: by Rachael (new)

Rachael | 4 comments Started this morning and I have to say (25 pages in, not a great place to judge a book from) not really thrilled by it do far. But we'll see how it progresses.

message 14: by Rachael (new)

Rachael | 4 comments Oh and is it just me who (though not American) puts on a really awful, stereotypically rural American accent in their head whilst reading this?

message 15: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Ha Ha...I know what you mean. Its like playing a film in your head!...I had the same first feelings that you had.

I think it may be the time of's difficult to get into the idea of dustbowl heat when there's two foot of snow outside!

message 16: by Val (new)

Val I know what you mean too Rachael!
It may not have been such a stereotype at the time he wrote the book and a film was made of it a year or two later, but it is very difficult to escape that stereotype now.

message 17: by Rachael (new)

Rachael | 4 comments Good too see its not just me being prejudiced. I agree Ally! It's not the kind of book you can really fall into when it's snowing, but the economic side of it is acutely relatable given the current state of America's (and the world's) economy.

message 18: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (seagreenreader) I'm finding this book really upsetting. I've had to stop reading it in bed because I can't get to sleep after putting it down! The idea of having to leave everything and just go off to the unknown - I find it terrifying. And Ma Joad burning those letters was just heartbreaking.

Beth (bibliobeth) | 27 comments This book was a real slow burner for me but in the end I quite enjoyed it. I loved the mix of characters in the family, and the strength of the family as a whole. Ma Joad was definitely my favourite character - dignified no matter what.

message 20: by Michael (new)

Michael (mikeynick) | 239 comments Just started reading this It has an 68 pages introduction Is it worth reading and it add or substract from the reading of the novel.

message 21: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I read that long introduction and have finally gotten to the actual book. I'm not sure how much it added for me because there were many references to Steinbeck's journal for the book, Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, a book I am also reading. I would think it would help if I were not already reading WD. Or if you haven't read Grapes before, then you might get something out of it. But, on the kindle, this "introduction" is 8% of the book.

But it definitely does not detract from the book.

message 22: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I usually skip introductions because they sometimes contain spoilers. Sometimes I go back and read them after I finish the book.

I like how Steinbeck alternates chapters with teaser chapters about what's coming up. The turtle chapter, the car salesman chapter. Do others like that? Why do you think he did that?

message 23: by Michael (new)

Michael (mikeynick) | 239 comments Thanks for your thoughts. I'll dive straight in and find out for myself.

message 24: by Rachael (new)

Rachael | 4 comments Jennifer, I wondered the same thing and I started to think that he might have done it to make people meditate on the lessons of those scenes detached from the Joads' story. If the dodgy car salesman had been directly introduced as the man who ripped of Al all most readers would think is 'what a horrid man' and move on. By leaving that part separate it forces the reader to think about the meaning; about the fact that in times of economic stress it's not just the banks and big companies which are out to make a profit out of ripping of the workers and consumers, small business owners will turn against their neighbors to feed a starving family. It reinforces the idea of 'family first' introduced by the tractor driver who will do anything for the three dollars a day to feed his wife and children. I found that by focusing on that scene as a message within itself, it also demonstrates the way in which sagacious people find their fortunes in the misfortunes of others. The salesman knows people are desperate, so he buys cars cheaply and sells them at greatly inflated prices. Besides, he figures that by the time anyone realizes they've been conned they'll be too far away to exercise any form of recourse. People can prosper in times of economic downturn by exploited the desperation of others, that's sort of the over-arching message of the whole book, and by including that section as a piece to be meditated for meaning we really grasp that concept early on. I guess it creates a bit of dramatic irony too, in that we know that the car is faulty when the Joads don't. That's what I came up with anyway, would be interesting to see what other people thought.

message 25: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 30 comments I hope Steinbeck is looking down from a cloud somewhere to see the comments here! He was such a controversial writer in his lifetime, but his greatness seems obvious to me.

Steinbeck wrote about the people who left; I wrote about the people who stayed. I am not the master he is, but you can find more about people's reactions to the black storms and how they survived at:


message 26: by Val (last edited Jan 28, 2013 03:17AM) (new)

Val Rachael wrote: "Jennifer, I wondered the same thing and I started to think that he might have done it to make people meditate on the lessons of those scenes detached from the Joads' story. If the dodgy car salesma..."

I think that is a very good way of seeing it Rachael. He detaches some scenes from the main narrative of the family, thus making the reader pause and consider a wider picture and come to a better understanding of the times. The little bits of natural history are perhaps interludes without a deeper meaning, but are moments for stillness and meditation. (I presume the 'turtle' is actually a tortoise, otherwise it is a bit lost!)

message 27: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Steinbeck is amazing. A wonderful writer. I've read most of his books, including this one, but decades ago so I can't really remember much about them. I do remember being very powerfully affected by this particular book. A really tough read - very powerful and very moving.

message 28: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I'm still reading this. I was bogged down by that introduction. This is a re-read for me. We had to read it here in high school (40+ years ago ).

message 29: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Like Nigeyb I read Steinbeck decades ago. The Grapes of Wrath was never among my favorites by this author - which were/are: Of Mice and Men, The Pastures of Heaven, In Dubious Battle and East of Eden. I'm born and raised in Calfornia and had Steinbeck force fed from middle school onward. Steinbeck and Jack London were radical socialist heroes.

message 30: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments In the Midwest we also started reading JS in junior high with The Red Pony and The Pearl. My faves were In Dubious Battle and Winter of Our Discontent.

I don't think we had to read any Jack London, although I now have a number of his books.

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